After enduring over a year of hard lockdowns and mixed messages, Alice van der Velden and her partner traded in their UK jobs for an epic road trip through Europe.
When did you move to UK and why?
We moved to the UK in 2018 to be able to travel more. New Zealand is so isolated in comparison to the UK, where you have Europe on your doorstep.
What was the Covid response like?
It was very mixed, we locked down hard for four months and then opened up for the summer and were able to travel. We had a second lockdown over winter, which was really tough. All our Christmas plans were cancelled and everyone was very sick of being stuck at home, although by that point we were at least very used to working from home.
Did you feel like the city changed after lockdown?
The city was so quiet during the lockdown, it was really nice to bike everywhere and we could finally get a photo in front of Buckingham Palace with no people. After lockdown, people were everywhere and they had discounts on restaurants and closed off streets for al fresco dining. The city was in such a good mood and it was really fun getting back out and about.
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You've since quit your jobs and started travelling around Europe in a van, tell us about that.
We had already started thinking about doing a van trip as we felt like we couldn't fit in everything we wanted to do in Europe while working. When Covid started, all of our travel plans for that year got cancelled so that solidified our decision as we felt like we had missed out on so much.
Where have you been on your adventures so far?
We started with a month in Scotland in May this year when it was still illegal to leave the UK for a holiday. From there we took a ferry to Spain as it was the only country we could get to with Covid restrictions (and driving a van). Then it was on to Portugal, Italy and across to the Balkans where we have spent the past two months. It's so hard to choose our favourite destination but one was Monopoli in Italy, we had an amazing spot right on the sea where we could go swimming and the town was so picturesque. A highlight was hiking in the Pyrenees; we spent two days in Estany de Sant Maurici National Park, which had glacial lakes surrounded by mountains, we loved it.
What has been a challenge during your van travels?
Definitely all the new rules because of Covid. We have to do our research before we enter a new country to see what the requirements of entry are and what the rules are for mask wearing and opening hours of restaurants and bars. We flew back to the UK for our second vaccination, which has made it so much easier to travel between countries (and even to enter restaurants and events). There also aren't as many restrictions as there were when we first started our trip.
Where to next and what do you plan to do there?
We are currently in Romania and are about to attend a music festival for three days with 75,000 people. It's our first festival in two years and we can't wait. We will then spend another week here before going to Slovenia, Slovakia and making our way slowly back to the UK. We're planning to be back in London by November to start working again and since our ancestry visas end in 2023 we will move back to NZ then.
Do you miss anything about New Zealand?
I miss my family and friends, it's really hard not being able to see them for so long and not knowing when you will see them again.
What advice would you give Aucklanders still in lockdown?
Try new things. We were very creative during our lockdowns, I baked almost every Chelsea Winter recipe, we joined quiz nights, did a 30-day yoga challenge, had a Bob Ross paint and wine night, held a mini Olympics and tried a lot of new board games.